Monday, February 20, 2012

Shopgirl: Perpetuating negative stereotypes about L.A. since 2000

As it turns out, Steve Martin the writer is not nearly as delightful as Steve Martin the actor. Steve Martin the actor defeated a Mexican overlord with singing. Steve Martin the writer put an entire city in a box using ink and paper.

Where have you gone, my little buttercup?

Shopgirl  is just a wee little novella, but 130 pages never felt so long. The story: Mirabelle is a sweet girl from Vermont who works behind the Neiman Marcus glove counter in Beverly Hills (because rich people gotta buy their fancy gloves somewhere). She is a little fragile and a lot shy and perpetually in danger of being chewed up and spit out by the big bad city. Even though Mirabelle is 28, this bears all the marks of a coming-of-age story. She is helped in her journey of self-discovery by a boy in a man’s body, Jeremy, and a divorced gentleman of more advanced years and lots o’ money, Ray Porter.

My biggest problem with this book is Steve Martin’s obvious distaste for the entire city of Los Angeles (despite the fact that he lives here).* His so-called masterpiece of wit and wisdom is just one loooooong stereotype, mostly of the negative variety. The people who thrive in the city are portrayed as shallow and devious in comparison with Mirabelle’s small-town innocence. If she is a delicate butterfly struggling to float above the muck, they are the dung beetles reveling in it. I could give you so many examples of these unabashed stereotypes—the WHOLE BOOK is an example—but here are just a few:
“At twenty-six, Jeremy is two years younger than Mirabelle. He grew up in the slacker-based L.A. high school milieu, where aspiration languishes” (p. 7). Oh, HA-HA! Los Angeles public schools produce losers with no hopes or dreams.
“The variety of alteration is vast, except when it comes to breasts. Breasts are made large only—and in the process misshapen—and the incongruity of two bowling balls on an ironing board never seems to bother anyone” (p. 12). It's funny because everyone in L.A. has giant fake boobs and thinks giant fake boobs are THE BEST.

And Mirabelle’s only friends in the whole city, whom she depends on for all non-work activities, are inconsiderate flakes . . . and their names are Loki and Del Rey (because all people in L.A. have silly names).

STEVEN! DO YOU EVER LEAVE BEVERLY HILLS? You really should try it. The burritos are great out here.

Things I liked about this book? (1) That it was written in the present tense and (2) this paragraph about cats:
“Mirabelle has two cats. One is normal, the other is a reclusive kitten who lives under a sofa and rarely comes out. Very rarely. Once a year. This gives Mirabelle the feeling that there is a mysterious stranger living in her apartment whom she never sees but who leaves evidence of his existence by subtly moving small round objects from room to room.” (p. 4)
*Disclaimer: I also live in L.A. and metaphorically clutch it to my bosom with great fondness . . . so maybe I'm taking this all too personally. Whatever. It's my blog.

SOURCE: Martin, Steve. (2000). Shopgirl. New York: Hyperion.


  1. Hmmm, not hailing from LA, and never having visited there before I read Shop Girl, I didn't really pick up on those stereotypes and  thus I enjoyed the book quite a bit--I remember mostly just being surprised at how well written I thought it was, since most celebrity books are really awful (or ghostwritten).

  2. I will possibly revamp my impression of LA people based on you saying they're not all like that. And the movie Clueless. Mmm, Clueless.

    Seriously, no aspiration? Did he SEE how hard Cher worked to achieve her goals? 

  3. See, now, I'm the opposite- if someone says mean things about like the South of/ England in general, I'm just like 'yep, I know, some other nicer country please give me a visa out of here!' But I do hate stereotyping because, dammit, some of us don't even like tea! Anyway... I like Steve Martin but he shouldn't say bad things about places you love! Bad Steve.

    Oh yeah, and Heidi's face. What. The. Fuck?!

  4. Maybe it makes a difference that I moved here by choice? And that I came from a state stereotyped for its, um, older population?

    I *almost* posted a Heidi giant boobs picture, but it was too disturbing.

  5. There definitely ARE people like that here...but if the Real Housewives have taught us anything, it's that NO city is safe from the scourge of the botoxed beast.

    And good point! Cher helped people fall in love AND helped her dad with legal stuff AND looked good doing it. Well done, Cher.

  6. I *may* have been somewhat distracted. Maintaining my attitude of righteous indignation required a lot of concentration. But I did notice how well written it was. I guess I expected Steve to be a decent writer . . . mostly because he's not a reality star.

  7. I think that definitely makes a difference- if anyone talked shit about New York (my adopted city, in dreamland) I would probably slap them/criticise their book in a blog post. So, yeah. Fair enough!

    I find Heidi so generally disturbing. Series 1 and 2 of The Hills are SO sad to watch now because she was so normal and pretty and now she's just INSANE. Not that I still watch The Hills ever. Ahem.

  8. I read this many years ago when my (not yet) wife bought it.  She doesn't read, so I thought it was weird she had it.  But anyway, she didn't like it and I read it in an afternoon and thought it was kind of meh.  But I wasn't blogging back then so I couldn't possibly tell you which I liked or didn't like about it.  My memory has sprung a leak.  

    BUT one thing that I do remember are the silly names - and this was probably written in the late 90's when people were all about silly names.  There was a creative boom going on in the silly name department.  Silly clothes and hair too.  Overall silly.  Like Chris Kirkpatrick.

  9. Well, I'm glad you and your wife didn't like it, because now I feel vindicated in my disliking of it.

    But you have a point about the late '90s influence...I didn't think of that. And that picture of Chris Kirkpatrick has reminded me why I try to forget the late '90s ever existed.

  10. Who watches The Hills? Not me, certainly. *looks around nervously*