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LAist Interview: Mehammed Mack

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LAist's20 Under 30 interview series of outstanding Angelenos in their 20s continues with Mehammed Amadeus Mack, LA Weekly assistant to the Editor and prospective PhD student in sex tourism literature.

Age and Occupation:
22, assistant to the editor (or just "writer") at the LA Weekly.

How long have you lived in Los Angeles, and where do you live now?
I've lived here since I was 7. Nearly 16 years now. We moved to the Venice Canals because it reminded my mother of where she grew up, along the Nile in Cairo. We got there before the renovations, when the canals were more dumpy and wild.

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Why do you live in Los Angeles?
Having grown up in San Francisco, it took me a while to acclimate myself to a city with a new and overwhelming layout. It's difficult for children here, but the city forces them to be adventurous in finding their fun. LA's geographic and social challenges made for some great growing pains — it trains you all the time for personal "breakthroughs" — to the effect that I'm now lovingly grateful to this city for all its formative lessons. If I moved somewhere else, I would feel guilty and unthankful.

What do you like about your job?
The LA Weekly still maintains enough of an edge to reward the unorthodox and take creative risks. I've worked at other places where everyone has to adhere to a certain mold or tone, as though defending a reputation. At the LA Weekly, there's this exciting pluralism that spurs each reporter to reach into the depths of their own subjective world and emerge with riches, whether ethnic or intellectual. The end result is an issue that feels like a euphoric "show and tell." My self-imposed assignment is to try to unearth aspects of Middle Eastern culture — the kinkier, more irreverent side — that might disturb this burka and bomb narrative.

What's the most overrated adjective used for Los Angeles?
I don't know about adjectives, but probably the qualification that it "lacks a center." To say that is a failure of imagination. Maybe a failure also of the DMV test.

What's your favorite movie(s) or TV show(s) that are based in LA?
Romy and Michelle's High School Reunion. When I go jogging on the bike path, I try to identify their apartment building.

What is sex tourism literature? What's your favorite example?
Sex tourism literature is often thought of as some morally defenseless fetish sub-field. But people like André Gide and Jean Genet showed that voyages to Algeria or Palestine could be sexually, but also morally and politically transformative. Genet often said that sleeping with men illuminated their political causes. Gide let go of his Euro puritanism and found a more universal ethics, based in the mixing of colors. But my favorite example is Chocolat Chaud (Hot Chocolate), by the Moroccan author Rachid O, who writes in French (I am trying with a grad student at Berkeley to get it translated). The novel tells the story of a reverse sexual tourism: a Moroccan boy falls in love with the photograph of a French infant his grandmother used to care for; he then fakes a letter in her name feigning a life-threatening illness so that the French family comes back to Morocco. It's refreshingly chaste and apolitical, considering the ways that the post-colonial literary bedroom has become a vulgar and explicit site, where colonial-era grievances are aired and revenge is taken, often with brown 'victim' penetrating 'white' oppressor.

How does Los Angeles rate amongst sex tourism literature?
I don't know if the literature has matched the real life possibilities here. There are so many opportunities for international, inter-religious, inter-generational dating. We did get a submission, not to long ago, at the LA Weekly called "I Was Sleeping with an Alien", about a white WeHoan's dispassionate sexcapades with an undocumented Mexican sex worker. Although it was sometimes racist and demeaning, it did describe a certain culture clash that is amplified into high passion when it hits the bedroom. The offering of sex tourism literature is that, when sex is politically charged, it makes for a fascinating read.

What stories do you think the LA media misses about the Arab American community in Los Angeles?
The media goes for the moderates and not the eccentrics. It tries to stick up for us, out of a kind of liberal pity, to show that we are mostly an innocuous freedom-loving people. But ironically, homogenizing Arabs makes them seem like more of a monolithic bloc, capable of conspiracies, and eventually that scares people all over again. If you showed, among the Arabs, the reality of crazy people, radical atheists, gays and lesbians, rappers, fashion designers, and strippers, you would find a reassuring diversity and chaos that is the mark of a healthy and ultimately friendly immigrant society.

What's your favorite soundtrack from a movie or TV show based in LA?
"Madame Hollywood", sung by the unique Miss Kittin for Felix Da Housecat. "Everyone wants to be Hollywood... One day I'll become a great big star/ you know/ like the Big Dipper/ and maybe one day you can visit my condo/ on a big hill you know/ like 9-0-2-1-0." I first saw her at a rave in an airport hangar in the Inland Empire, and thought of adopting her for a green card, which is to say... Raves are still cool!

Best LA-themed book(s)?
Above Los Angeles. I bought it for my host family when I was an exchange student in France. Narrating each page for them was like discovering what you like about a person, or a city.

In your opinion, what's the best alternate route to the 405?
Sawtelle and noodles!

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Describe your best LA dining experience:
There is a restaurant in Koreatown that feels like a mob hangout: you can smoke inside, there is a lot of beer and shouting, there's a central fire where all manner of flesh gets roasted on skewers, the walls are covered in handwriting, Korean rockers belt out with awesome emotion from the speakers, and everything comes with delicious broth and red hot Kim Chee. The overall decor is 'war-time bunker'. I always think of Koreans as the Sicilians of Asia.

What's the best place to walk in LA?
Probably the Venice Canals after dark when you can see into people's lit-up houses and mind their business.

What is the "center" of LA to you?
Mt. High, looking out over the city on your skis, preparing for descent.

If you could live in any neighborhood or specific house in LA, where/which would you choose?
The Kabbaz residence, in the middle of theLycee Francais de Los Angeles: an ivory tower on a small hill in the Palms area belonging to the family of the school's founders and longtime principals, Esther and Raymond. I always wanted to know, going to school there, where policy was made and if their view was nice.

People stereotype Los Angeles as a hard place to find personal connections and make friends. Do you agree with that assessment? Do find it challenging to make new friends here?
No. It's all about becoming a regular, even if you have to drive 45 minutes.

What is the city's greatest secret?
Its dramatic natural resources, the ones that make you realize you're near a fault line.

Where do you want to be when the Big One hits?
Under my mom's dress, between her feet, six years old.