“Where exactly is Emeryville,” several million Americans simultaneously asked this week, upon hearing the news of the acquisition by Disney of “Emeryville, CA” based Pixar studios. It's supposed to be a huge deal, this acquisition. Pixar should bring Disney back to life, the media analysts tell us. With Pixar in their pocket, Disney will lead big media's charge in the digital future.
So let me tell you where Emeryville is.
As a shape on a map, Emeryville resembles a slither of urban shrapnel. But what a splendidly industrious slither! Located on a narrow coastal strip of San Francisco’s East Bay at the strategic eastern mouth of the Bay Bridge, Emeryville is cars and trains and data, flying this way and that, non-stop, perpetual motion. Above ground, it is a blur of railway tracks, interstate highways, flight paths and truck routes. Underground, it is all bits and bytes: a tangled undergrowth of fiber optic cable serving up broadband connectivity to the entire Bay Area.
Emeryville is on the edge. The edge of Silicon Valley. The edge of The San Francisco Bay. The edge of America.
In the early years of the cinema, filmmakers like Dzigo Vertov in A Man with a Movie Camera (1929) or Walter Ruttman in his Berlin: Symphony of a Great City (1928) created high energy movies that captured the motion of an Emeryville-like place. Today, If Emeryville was made into a movie, it would be all glossy surface, endless movement, perpetual excitement with the next thing. It would be a road movie without a center. Somewhere between Quentin Tarantino and Wim Wenders. And the soundtrack to this movie? As a place we march through to get somewhere else, the appropriate music here is driving music. Music like John Adams’ athletic 1995 composition “Road Movies,” a sinuous tune forever crashing into its next note. Adams, who sometimes conducts the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, lives, like me, in Berkeley and must negotiate Emeryville to get to Symphony Hall. Perhaps he imagined “Road Movies” while driving thru E.
The truth about Emeryville, if such a thing exists, is that even talking about the place leads somewhere else. Gertrude Stein remarked, all-too-famously, about Oakland, the urban blob (as opposed to a slither) in distant Pennsylvania, that “there’s no there.” Emeryville represents a variation on Stein’s theme of absence. This is not small-town or even no-town America – but pass-through America. Emeryville is somewhere else. Anywhere but Emeryville. The other bridge. A journey. Silicon Valley. Disney. The edge. Digital animation. The next big thing.
That's where Emeryville is. The future.