Whatever | Wealth | Individualism



Bryan E. Hall

The crying call of the hoards of confused, non-committal, insecure Southern Californians, who, like most people, just want to be understood, accepted and loved, “Whatever!” The conflicting messages between classes and other separable categories, reflect the real collective culture juxtaposed against that mythical culture defined as it is always, by the those who have power, those in the greatest social denial in protection of their own self-interest. Californians are unfairly stereotyped by most, assuming the characteristics of the squeaky wheels, those polar, vocal expressionists. Just as many stereotype blacks with the Uncle Tom, and gays by Drag-queens, the fact is, most Californians are no different than any other world citizens but, like any other people, are only products of their history and environment. It is a state whose forefathers were immigrants just as were their Eastern counterparts, with one main difference. They were founding a state after most of the national decisions were already made. It is an alliance of individualists who generally feel they must buck the traditions of the Eastern establishment, who they believe inflicts social policy on them. A typical native Californian might totally discount thorough observations from those born outside their state, claiming the outsider cannot know. They may even discount the opinions of non-native longtime residents who have observed from the inside and the outside. Even if they agree with the uncomfortable analyses of the outsider, they fall prey to pressures of conformity, denial and embarrassment. Most of them multigenerational, have a pedigree of mavericks, tough on the outside, nonetheless universally vulnerable and human. The ideals admired and valued are reflected in general popular culture today which they inflict on the world through media. Although most Californians are not Mavericks themselves, they admire that quality to the same extent a Southerner or Brit might admire the tradition of the Gentleman. It is the archetype which defines the culture, not necessarily the characteristics of the average man or even the majority. The ideals expressed in their voting patterns, business choices, literature and entertainment reflect their inner values. John and Juan Doe, Californians, may be particularly gentle while they may admire the erratic hero. There is a powerful inner applause for the man who takes the law into his own hands, or the cop who does “the right thing” even when it breaks the rules. Today’s cowboys, knights and soldiers are the gang-bangers, surfers and zealous


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shopping valley-girls. Because media ended up in Southern California, archetypes originate there as well. In all fairness, while entertainment media have reinforced stereotypes of outsiders they have also reinforced those in their own state as well. Most cannot muster the strength to take these paths dictated by the media, so they stand disillusioned, frustrated on the inside, while claiming great confidence. They express grandiose goals, like the waiter/actor, or the small business man who makes less than his employee counterparts, but “is his own man.” Sometimes these aspirations payoff and those individuals are held up as proof of the myth, though they are the exceptions. It is a culture of Narcissism, where people stare at their own images until paralyzed by self-obsession, appearing arrogant and confident, while actually motivated by their fear of inferior appearance. Though most of the settlers were from the East, they tended to be those who did not fit in or lacked power, those who had ideas but no platform, and those who liked good weather. The hard-working miner forty-niner who worked his fingers to the bone seeking gold and most often failing, the Hollywood pioneers who created what would later be the defining source of world media, the cowboy who just wanted to be free and wild, and women whose husbands had died or been killed in the their Westward movement, all made up the loose coalition, sharing their respective competitive communities for the goal of getting rich to enjoy the good-life. The further West one went, the greater the individualism, in a nation which had been founded on freedom of the individual spirit tempered with social responsibility. As time passed, fortunes were made from the tremendous resources of nature and cheap manpower. Heavy unrestricted trade in a state where the weather allowed more work days was attractive to transients who already had wealth, which stimulated even greater productivity and investment. California had developed its own “old money” in the North from mining and farming, but the Southland continued to attract rugged individualists. Those who had power in Southern California, benefited from less government scrutiny than those in the North as they built their empires on the backs of defeated Spanish, Mexican and Indian settlers who now offered cheap labor. More and more investment capital became available to entrepreneurs as the nouveau riche persisted in claiming stake on the sunny beaches of Southern California. Already, this burgeoning class was finding ways to separate itself from the poor, the uncomfortable knowledge of the inequities which were developing in society. The film industry was developing, becoming a new arena for the creative business pioneer. Studios replaced orange groves. Highways and freeways were getting more abundant and larger, so the rich could drive from one part of the city to their homes without direct exposure to the poor. With telephony and telecommunications, the rich were more able to stay in their homes and manage their wealth without direct contact with the workers. The laws were still such that the wealthy grew their fortunes at a disproportionate rate compared to the standards of living for the working class, with very little prospect of reform. It was an undeniable model for business success. However, business, when


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unfettered with the moral component of economics, began to measure societal success with averages, which were skewed by the huge incomes at the upper end of the scale. The economy had developed a dependence on a relative blackmarket working class of illegal immigrants and those wishing to shelter their incomes from taxation. In either case, workers were less likely to complain of their abuse and breaches of public policy as they and their employers were partners in crime. The social culture, which has developed, is best described as a lower class aspiring to wealth in a deluded, mythical Rags to Riches mentality, ultimately seduced by an emotional opiate of abused metaphors. The poor themselves in their quest for the good life, allow, in fact, fight for, vote for and work for, the protected rights of the rich. Today, Southern California epitomizes superficiality. Those rich who do not work for a living talking about the poor, “those people,” as if they are not members of the same species. The rich are so comfortable, they forget what real problems are, complaining that these programs which help the poor and the middle class, may destroy them, reducing their profit increases, property values, or the size and number of the cars they drive and the yachts they sail, such quality problems, while the poor lose jobs, income and dignity. The rich of Southern California more than ever define culture as they control the media, dictating the goals of a society. The poor, who do not know their plight, suffer from socio-economic quandary as they watch mythical figures on television with their big homes, beautiful mates and nice cars. The reaction -blind-ambition and hard-work for some, and crimes of righteous indignation from others; a degrading, further segregated society for all. Special interests serve to separate an individual from his multiple associations, to the point of solitude, where he is least powerful. Black Pride, Gay Pride, a part of town named for every ethnicity, China Town, Korea Town, these examples of groups, which form coalitions to elect those who appease, conciliate and pacify them, all the while hating each other. Young people falsely believe they have created their own fashion and entertainment statements, while in truth, old men in business suits choose the most profitable fads to feed the masses of malleable malcontents. To the hand-ringing pleasure of the rich, every class, race and ethnicity fight one another for territory as they are distracted from their real foes, those rich and powerful lacking altruism. A language of separatism and individualism pervades popular culture now, not only of Southern California, but of the world. Two years ago, a group of broadcasters, media programmers, and communications academia, gathered in Brazil to discuss the future of world culture as affected by growing multinational media. Most of them were frightened by the harsh realities of the impending Americanization of the world. But, worse, they feared cultural-elite tunnel vision would be inflicted on the world. It would come from a single source, a part of the world deluded by good weather and wealth. The authors of a world vision would serve unelected seats in the capitol of money, property and prestige, Hollywood. Just as America has been depicted by the narrow scope of feature films, pseudo-


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news and mind-numbing television, so would be the world. Just as blacks, Southerners, farmers and others who have been unfairly stereotyped in films by a medium controlled by people who have never met or known them, so too would be every nation. Just as it is assumed LA is populated by people with guns shooting each other on the streets, and that Earthquakes destroy things daily, the exception will seem the rule. The world’s cultural filter will be developed by those with the least recognized social responsibility mandate. The world will not see or value the real, hardworking character of the poor and middle class everywhere. Instead, they will import a culture of deceit, where cheating, killing, and playing hardball, afford someone the good life of museums, opera and beachfront property. The world will believe the result is the only measure of the technique of achieving it. The whole world will, if they are not already, be proclaiming as ideals, “I am what I am”, “Who cares what they think?”, “Be me”, “Take it easy”, a new Me Generation. Like many Southern Californians, the whole world may speak in noncommittal tones, with question marks at the end of every statement looking for affirmation at every turn, while claiming to be independent. No longer will someone actually do something, say something, or have something. Instead, they will “like do this”, or “like say that”, or “have like something,” or “Whatever!”

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