Saturday, December 16, 2006

Waging war on the California Dream...

What we talk about when we're talking about Americans, or at least what we've learned from the politicians, is to shoot towards the middle. Baseball and apple pie may have evolved into computer gaming and fast food addiction. No matter, we'll always find bland, mindless attributes to define our national identity and politicians, and marketers will use them to get that patriotic lump in our throat a quivering.

What we talk about when we talk about Californians is another matter altogether. Now that I've lived in this state for ten years, I feel that the probationary silent period has expired, and that I am fully qualified to speak my mind about some of the Golden State's shortcomings. I could come at this from many levels, but for today, my approach will be purely social/cultural with an elitist spin. Also more focused on Southern California. OK? OK.

When (Southern) California really hit the turbo on its branding blitz in the 1950s, America was flooded with the notion of a paradise lurking within our nation's borders. Paradise, at that time, was largely defined largely as a place where white males could freely ogle bikini-clad girls on a sun-drenched beaches. The only verticals to be found in paradise that could dare to compete with the endless blue skies and blood-orange sunsets were palm trees and surfboards pitched proudly in the sand as phallic totems... Beacons calling out to miserable snow-shoveling schmoes stationed along various points east.

And so they came. And so Southern California (because of it's highly desirable Csa climate) became filled with average Joes in search of the carrots that had been dangled in their face. And they were here: the girls, the surfboards, the sunsets, every day a perfect sunny and 80 degrees, an endless margaritaville.

The 50's became the 60's which became the 70's and the cocktail grew stronger as new drugs and attitudes where stirred into the mix. The mandate was to relax. Enjoy the ride. Don't think too hard. "Take it easy!" sang the Eagles, the ultimate spokesmen of the new California mellow mindset that was sweeping the nation into a shaggy smiley faced apathetic stupor. Averageness was celebrated as an ideal. Crappy buildings were built. Crappy movies were made. Crappy laws were passed. Crappy people got their way. Average people opened their mouths as wide as they could and allowed the crap to be shoveled in. After a while it didn't even taste like crap anymore.

Were their exceptions? Of course there were. Brilliant ones, in fact, but those exceptions must be saved for another conversation. Today, anyone who visits So-Cal for the first time has little trouble spotting the crap I'm alluding to. The spoils of crapdom are evident and abundant. Even lovable, when you spend enough time around them.

Fortunately, the tides are turning. There's just as much crap being produced as ever, but there is also an emerging class of people interested in something finer. Less crappy. These are people who see that Southern California gets a bad wrap because, honestly, it deserves one. People who see the instrinsic beauty of this place and don't need to reduce it to an album cover or a cartoon. People who can find other mythologies to tap into. People who do not want to resign themselves to crap.

I've made some wild oversimplifications today, and I stand by them, only because I support any initiative that challenges sorry notions of the California Dream. Let's redefine paradise as a place where visionary dreams and horrific realities meet in a hopeful human struggle for something better. A place where uninspired, average, least common denominator, bottom-line decision-making is relegated to the past. A place where new wildly unexpected and healthy stereotypes are born.

("Small Worlds" by the ever-awesome Andrew Schoultz)


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