As a native Californian (fifth generation), here is a list of cultural touchstones portrayed in film and television that I didn’t identify with growing up. Enjoy.
1. School Hallways. It’s California. We have like a dozen rainy days a year. With the exception of pre-World War Two schools, most classrooms in California open out onto green quads, open walkways and playgrounds. I’ve never had to awkwardly avoid a crush in a narrow corridor, sneak past the Vice-Principal in an empty hallway nor have I been shoved into a locker. Relatedly, I never had a locker in school, thereby missing out on the single most universally transcendent middle/high-school experience ever. Though that had nothing to do with being in California. (In case you’re wondering, we had two sets of textbooks.)
2. Summer Sleepaway Camp. This one always baffled me. Nobody I knew in school ever went to sleepaway camp, like the kind portrayed in “Salute Your Shorts” or “Wet Hot American Summer.” Day camp? Sure. One week overnight Boy Scout camp? Absolutely. But those camps where kids go to live for seemingly the entire summer where they discover the joy of masturbation and the shame of getting caught masturbating? Nope. Maybe it’s because no place in California is fewer than 60 minutes from nature or maybe its because our summers aren’t muggy humid messes where it’s hellish to be in the city. Maybe it’s because our parents actually love us and want to spend time as a family during the summer. I don’t know. All I can say is I understand the idea of summer camp but will never be able to relate to it.
3. Boarding School. Similar to summer camp. We have plenty of private schools but they’re virtually all day schools and in the case of most suburban public school districts, the private schools were where over-religious weirdos and kids who had been kicked out of public school went, not where the scions of industry were schooled while furthering the exploration of the aforementioned masturbation.
4. Snow days. Obviously. But the prevalence of snow days in TV shows that I watched growing up was very puzzling because a lot of the country doesn’t get snow on the ground routinely but every single school on TV seems to. I think it’s because most TV writers of that era were from the northeast and the upper midwest where people inexplicably live in hellish weather and whose kids grow up in it and then move to California and write TV shows.
5. Parents with Blue-Collar Jobs. My lack of a Rust Belt upbringing means I didn’t have parents who worked “at the plant” or “at the mill” or “at the plant mill.” In California, the middle class works in the service sector, government and precision manufacturing. My dad didn’t come home from work with oil on his collar, pop a Yuengling and pass out on the couch. He came home from work with mustard on his tie, popped a bottle of Ravenswood Zinfandel and cooked dinner.
And, most importantly….
6. Fetishizing California. I love this damn state. It’s beautiful. We’ve got beaches, mountains, diversity. But we’ve also got traffic and blight and smog and bullshit. I know why people come to California–I’ve been all over the country and have no interest in living anywhere else except perhaps New York in the Spring or Portland in the late summer–but it’s still just another place with problems. I mean don’t get me wrong, every other state sucks a whole lot more.
With a new generation of (presumably West Coast-raised) writers producing our TV shows and movies we’re definitely seeing a shift to more California-centric portrayals of childhood and adolescence, which means kids growing up in California now won’t have the cultural touchstone of not having relatable cultural touchstones.
And that’s kinda sad.