Westside story: putting Beverly Hills into perspective

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Past the Hollywood sign, off the I-405 freeway and down a Jacaranda tree-lined avenue lies my home for the past 17 years. A 20-minute freeway trip from downtown Los Angeles and a windy canyon drive to the Westside, I am wedged between the solace of my post-modern suburbia and the chaos of the city. I am, by technicalities, a valley girl.

It wasn’t until eighth grade, though, that I actually considered Beverly Hills beyond its name. After my eight years in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), my mom saw it fit for my sister and me to experience a new setting, to venture off into the unknown, into what lay on the other side of Beverly Glen.

At the time, I didn’t really understand her reasoning for sending us to school in Beverly Hills. It was something about having the “quintessential high school experience,” with Friday-night football and school dances. I mean, I guess it made sense. None of the public high schools within decent radius of my house even came close to competing with Beverly in most aspects. My dad had attended Beverly (class of ‘76) and had made it out alive, so, really, “what was the harm in enrolling,” my mom argued.

When I received the news that my legacy permit application was validated, I cried. To be honest, I’m not really sure why, but it was probably some combination of melodramatic post-bat mitzvah angst and the idea of leaving my familiar LAUSD for Beverly Hills. Regardless, I entered the Beverly Hills Unified School District (BHUSD) that autumn.

Most of my knowledge about Beverly Hills (prior to actually attending school in the city) came from the media. Cheap blockbusters and the ritzy publicity centered on the city left an imprint on me, as they would to any impressionable 13-year-old girl. I already had a set idea of what Beverly Hills would be like: a place swarming with A-listers and labels. Frankly, I had a biased view of the city, but it was more of an incomplete opinion than a definitive perspective. Sort of like the “Oh yeah, I know her. Well, I don’t know her know her, but, yeah, I know her” situation.

I hate to play the devil’s advocate, but for my first year or two in BHUSD, the idea of attending Beverly embarrassed me. I felt sort of ashamed to be associated with the shallowness and ludicrousness that went along with Beverly Hills, or at least with the overdramatization of Beverly Hills that the media thrust upon society. When people would ask me where I went to school, I’d answer “Beverly Hills High School,” but internally, I’d be screaming, “I’m not rich, I swear.”

How pitiful that the sleazy reality shows portrayed cities being “well-off” as a shameful thing. Of course, there is a major difference between thriving and boasting, but television displayed Beverly as a center of pretentious, in-your-face individuals — the media had everyone fixed upon the luxurious aspects of the city. Essentially, pop culture portrays Beverly as a breeding ground for pomp and brattiness. What my fidgety ninth-grade self was too naive to realize, though, was that I was feeding into the media’s image of Beverly. I didn’t bother defending Beverly at the time because I, too, was one of entertainment’s brainwashed souls. People claimed that Beverly’s parking lot, rife with Audis and Mercedes, looked like a car show, so I agreed. People claimed that Beverly parties were extremely exclusive, so I agreed. But no one claimed that there were students who read Kafka for fun. Or that there were students who visited museums on the weekend. Or that there were students who still listened to Steely Dan on vinyl. The truth is that there are students at Beverly who do all of the above, and they’re some of the most interesting people I’ve met — but unfortunately, they wouldn’t make good television.

I realized at the end of my sophomore year that I wasn’t embarrassed by Beverly Hills, but rather by the media’s shallow, made-for-television version of the flourishing city.

There’s more to Beverly Hills than what the media pins as “iconic,” but most of Beverly’s brilliance doesn’t make airtime. Shrugging off the false perceptions and ignoring the biased remarks only gives the 90210 and its zip-code neighbors a bad name.

It took me a few years too many to realize this, but Weezer was right. Beverly Hills is where I want to be.

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