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The Dapper Rebels of Los Angeles, 1966
April 1, 2013 7:42 PM   Subscribe

In the summer of 1965, riots broke out in the Watts neighborhood of southern Los Angeles. Over a six-day period, 34 people were killed, 1,032 injured and over 3,438 arrests were made. In 1966, LIFE magazine revisited the site of the worst riots America had ever seen in its history. The photo essay depicting the region’s ‘fearsome street gangs’ however, turned out more like a fashion shoot for dapper style…

The original Life story and slideshow is here.

The Watts Riots 40 years on.

Vaguely related: Who is the Dandy Man? Dandies in the DRC and beyond.
posted by Mezentian (35 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite

 
Holy shit! Those guys are smooth!

It is crazy they look so timelessly cool 50 years on. Not dated or nostalgic like the greaser thing either, just pure fucking cool.
posted by lattiboy at 8:00 PM on April 1, 2013 [12 favorites]


This is excellent. Excellent. Thank you.
posted by sweetkid at 8:15 PM on April 1, 2013


Notably opposed to now, when the average person pays to advertise one or another Trademarked Brand®.
posted by anarch at 8:19 PM on April 1, 2013


This seems to be either a really poorly shot photo essay about the '65 Riots, or a collection of photos pulled from that photo essay to make a strange point.
posted by rollbiz at 8:29 PM on April 1, 2013


I'm thinking they had some advance warning that Life Magazine was going to come and take pictures. Everybody turned up looking their best.
posted by Kevin Street at 8:30 PM on April 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


(from the link)

Images found on this interesting Brazilian blog (written in Portuguese), Ubora, about urban retro style.

That explains it, I guess.
posted by rollbiz at 8:31 PM on April 1, 2013


Situationist analysis of the Watts riot.
posted by Bureau of Public Secrets at 8:34 PM on April 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


If you click on the link to the original Life essay, those are indeed the photos. There are other photos as well, of families and women and children, so perhaps not the "street gang" photos.
posted by eviemath at 8:38 PM on April 1, 2013


1938: Digging holes is a shirt and tie affair.

1965: "Fearsome street gangs" wear button down shirts....

What's next?
posted by Confess, Fletch at 9:29 PM on April 1, 2013


Huh, interesting.

The first thing I noticed is there is no branding on any of the cloths. The only unbranded cloths I own are sweaters and Marks Work Warehouse shirts.

I've also got to wonder what would have happened if the occupy movement had gone in this direction, ACTUALLY occupying wall street, and/or burning the entire thing to the ground.
It wouldn't have fizzled out, that is for sure. But would it just have led to people turning on them, or would it have made a large enough statement to get noticed?
posted by Canageek at 9:38 PM on April 1, 2013


From 1966, A Journey Into the Mind of Watts by Thomas Pynchon.
posted by chavenet at 11:28 PM on April 1, 2013 [10 favorites]


That's just what happens when you put a damn good photographer with some damn good looking people.
posted by Flex1970 at 11:47 PM on April 1, 2013


A bit of soundtrack music.
posted by koeselitz at 11:51 PM on April 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


That casual shot of several guys putting together Molotov cocktails, with baking powder just blows my mind.
That’s some serious stuff, and they don’t care if someone is photographing them?
...
posted by quazichimp at 12:23 AM on April 2, 2013


Hipsters!
...
I just read the New Yorker article(paywalled; free slideshow here) on Dapper Dan yesterday and so I'm interested to see this older era of gangster fashion.
posted by knile at 12:43 AM on April 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


That casual shot of several guys putting together Molotov cocktails, with baking powder just blows my mind.
That’s some serious stuff, and they don’t care if someone is photographing them?


Watts in '65 was more like Soweto in '79 than anything else, a ghetto for people who had no future within the existing political system, but who had only recently become aware of their own strength and where no longer content to stay downtrodden, even if they were going to die, get beaten up or slung in jail.

In that context, who cared whether or not Life saw you make Molotov cocktails?

Over the past thirty - forty years we've grown unfamiliar with this sort of political violence, of the oppressed against the oppressor, so it does seem strange to us to see it so casually accepted even by the most bourgeois of magazines.
posted by MartinWisse at 1:00 AM on April 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


Speaking of soundtracks, This kid has one, and I must know it, for surely it is some of the most amazing music ever known.
posted by louche mustachio at 1:04 AM on April 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


It reminds me of the crooks in Steve Ditko's Spider-Man--the non-supervillain ones--who would be dressed in suits and snap-brim fedoras.
posted by Halloween Jack at 4:49 AM on April 2, 2013


I've also got to wonder what would have happened if the occupy movement had gone in this direction, ACTUALLY occupying wall street, and/or burning the entire thing to the ground.

You are aware that the NYPD has more troop strength than the national armies of Belgium or Denmark, right? And that the NY National Guard 69th and 42nd Infantry divisions are based in the city? It would be a complete bloodbath, and turn opinion against their goals and objectives and firmly in the Tea Party's direction. It would be a humanitarian and political catastrophe, and it wouldn't even do that much damage before being brutally quashed.
posted by Slap*Happy at 5:48 AM on April 2, 2013 [7 favorites]


I've also got to wonder what would have happened if the occupy movement had gone in this direction, ACTUALLY occupying wall street, and/or burning the entire thing to the ground.
It wouldn't have fizzled out, that is for sure. But would it just have led to people turning on them, or would it have made a large enough statement to get noticed?


It certainly would have gotten noticed, but probably not noticed in the way you're hoping for. Considering that every riot has resulted in the massive destruction of poor neighborhoods and a reactionary politics, I'd say the results would have been as bad now as they were then. Most of the inner cities of America, from Bed-Stuy to Watts, went from working-class to poor thanks to the riots of the 60s, which destroyed infrastructure and left investors and government unwilling to rebuild.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 6:37 AM on April 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


I don't think Occupy fizzled out.
posted by sweetkid at 7:00 AM on April 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


Getting back to the photos, this is nearly the exact look J. Crew has been going for in the last 2-3 years. Retro urban working class. I'm still not sure this isn't an April Fool's joke.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 7:30 AM on April 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


I can not get over how much that looks like the spread from a catalog I want to order from. Only there's not a female/ladies/women's section.

The fashion-layout feel juxtaposed with the historical context is just making my brain hurt.
posted by sio42 at 7:43 AM on April 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Slap*Happy: ThatFuzzyBastard: Yeah, I kinda figured that it would end that way. Which kind of shows any attempt to change the US that isn't backed by a few billion dollars is rather pointless, now doesn't it?
posted by Canageek at 8:11 AM on April 2, 2013


Those are some fine-looking lads. They could teach today's homeboys a thing or two.
posted by orange swan at 8:14 AM on April 2, 2013


People used to dress up for air travel, work, riots.
posted by thelonius at 8:26 AM on April 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


If these guys were, say, twenty years old in 1965, then they would be almost seventy years old now. I'd be curious to see what they are doing and what they look like now.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 8:43 AM on April 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


Memoir on the occasion of the 45th anniversary of the riots, written by a LAPD police dispatcher who lived in Watts and took the emergency call from the officer who made the DUI stop that started it all: http://www.theroot.com/views/watts-retrospect
posted by spacely_sprocket at 9:02 AM on April 2, 2013


This seems to be either a really poorly shot photo essay about the '65 Riots, or a collection of photos pulled from that photo essay to make a strange point.

Well, if you look at the original collection, both the 1966 Life story and this blog post have made editorial decisions about which photographs to use. I think that's perfectly normal- there are no objective news stories, no matter what people like to think. The blog post is clearly titled "The Dapper Rebels of Los Angeles" so no one should be surprised that they chose pictures supporting that (though they left out a couple good ones!). It's not trying to make a big point about Watts, just about clothes. That's ok. The only media I've seen of the Watts riots has all been extremely violent, black and white images, and it's important to remember that that real humans with human wants and needs and joys were participants/victims/survivors/instigators/trying to get by in Watts. It's frustrating to me when people only show the crappy blighted parts of Oakland, or only talk about the poverty and violence here. Even the poor people in the bad parts of town have a lot more going on in their lives than constant gunfire and gang activity. I think it's easier for some portions of society to dehumanize others when that's the only side they see- there were people on Metafilter who said in one of the Oakland threads about the BART shooting that "Oakland should be burned to the ground", and I regularly read comments from people on the local SF paper that Oakland is a "worthless ghetto". That's all they read, that's all they see, so they feel entitled to hold those opinions. Instead I look at these photos and think "that girl in the yellow shirt looks like a lot of fun. I wonder where she is now?" The photographer, Bill Ray, who took the original Life photos had this to say about the experience:


I did not try to dress like them, act like them or pretend to be tough. I showed great interest in them, and treated them with respect. The main thing was to convince them that I had no connection with the police. The thing that surprised me the most was that, in both cases, as I spent more time with them and got to know them better, I got to like and respect many of them quite a lot. There was a humanity there that we all have inside us. Meeting and photographing different kinds of people has always been the most exciting part of my job. I still love it.

Two big differences in the assignments, though, was that I shot the Hells Angels in black and white — which was perfect for their gritty world — and “Watts: A Year Later” was in color. Also perfect, because Watts had a lot of color, on the walls, the graffiti, the way people dressed — and, of course, my group of bombers who liked to practice making and throwing Molotov cocktails (see slides 17, 18 and 19 in gallery).

Those two assignments documented two utterly marginalized worlds that few people ever get to see up close. There was no job on earth as good as being a LIFE photographer.


I wish the people in the photos had names, but maybe they didn't want to give them. However I think it's clear from the photos that the subjects are at ease around Ray. At the same time, Life left out some of the photos that show real poverty, and children playing in rubble. I'd like to read the original article but haven't been able to find it on line, just to see what their editorial slant was.
posted by oneirodynia at 9:25 AM on April 2, 2013 [12 favorites]


hey, that's a really great comment oneirodynia. I too find a lot of the generalizing about "poor urban" areas really frustrating, and it's clear that it's really taken hold in a lot of people 's consciousness. (To the point that some people in this thread think this was an April Fool's joke??)
posted by sweetkid at 9:29 AM on April 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


I've been tidying up a bit, and the Aug 27 1965 LIFE magazine is sitting right here. December 6, 1968, Chicago Police Riots is sitting under it. Then there's the Summer of Love issue, and the LSD Art issue.
posted by StickyCarpet at 9:34 AM on April 2, 2013


If these guys were, say, twenty years old in 1965, then they would be almost seventy years old now. I'd be curious to see what they are doing and what they look like now.

My mother's older brother would have been about 19-20 at the these the pics were taken, and all of the photos of him from back then look exactly like these. If his "look" now is any indication, they look like grandpa's. Grey hair, reading glasses, costco dad jeans pulled up to their nipples. That nondescript windbreaker that every man over the age of 60 is issued.
posted by billyfleetwood at 10:49 AM on April 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


These pictures remind me of Killer of Sheep, a lot.
posted by pxe2000 at 5:23 PM on April 2, 2013


Those clothes are awesome. I love the jeans in this picture. I wonder how much those jeans cost adjusted for 2013 dollars? Nowadays people can pay over $200 for jeans like that.

It's a good reminder of how much of present-day fashion is borrowed from urban fashion of earlier eras. After all, wasn't it Biggie who rapped about wearing the red and black lumberjack way back in the day?

But now I feel like things are coming full circle, if T.I.'s glasses are any indication.
posted by pravit at 5:27 PM on April 2, 2013


"In 1966, LIFE magazine revisited the site of the worst riots America had ever seen in its history."

You mean the worst riots L.A. has ever seen.

There have been worse riots than Watts in other parts of the country. The New York Draft Riots were the "the largest civil insurrection in American history."

So bad was is that the Union considered it a Confederate victory.
posted by Birchpear at 1:39 AM on April 3, 2013


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