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PhD in Los Angeles: What Happens to Mattresses on the Streets of Hollywood?

10:30 AM PDT on May 5, 2015


Welcome to PhD in Los Angeles, a new series on L.A. Taco where we examine scholarly articles about our beloved city. First up is an essay by native Angeleno Stefano Bloch. Bloch is a Mellon Post-Doctoral Fellow in the Urban Studies Program and the Cogut Center for the Humanities at Brown University.

Hollywood as waste regime: The revalorization of a cast-off mattress as film prop is an article originally published in City: analysis of urban trends, culture, theory, policy, action. Dr. Stefano Bloch takes us on a tour of L.A.'s rarely seen or discussed scavenger community-- mostly new immigrants trawling the city's streets for semi-valuable waste, in this case mattresses left on the sidewalk. These stained and soiled castoffs are worth $3-$5 each to recycling factories that strip them for parts and use them to create discount refurbished mattresses for the consumer market.

Next we learn about the role of scavenging in a capitalist society as Bloch takes us through both a scholarly tour of the role scavengers play in consumerism and waste regimes, and a global tour of sites where such activities take place.

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Eventually we arrive back in Hollywood, where we examine another often overlooked industry that relies on repurposing everyday objects-- the prop house. Prop houses provide the realism that filmmakers crave through these of thousands of reclaimed and reused objects that are collected in vast warehouses around the city. Bloch notes that "As a crucial part of a film’s overall aesthetic, set dressing and props— like wardrobe and set construction—play a privileged, albeit often unacknowledged and underappreciated, role in a film and within the larger cultural economy."

The article goes on to examine the role of props, recycled items, the transformative power of film, and the role Los Angeles itself plays in the many films in which it stars-- often as a recycled and degraded version of itself. We also see the lifecycle of a mattress made famous on the silver screen. You can read the entire piece below:

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