[Note: I would love to get a dialogue going on this topic , so I invite you to express your thoughts as well by submitting a comment below.]
It doesn’t take a psychiatrist to figure out that California suffers from an acute identity crisis.
We Californians may, on the surface, appear to be one big Happy Days family, but in reality we’ve divided our state into separate factions worthy of Montague and Capulet. That is, you’re either a Northern Californian or a Southern Californian, two opposing tribes that have little in common. In fact, which half you’ve decided to live in may reveal something about you.
All the California glamour, fame, fast cars, surf scenes, and buxom blondes you see on television are pure southern invention. If this is the California you’re looking for, head due south dude. Assuming you’re not terribly interested in intellectual stimulation, you won’t be disappointed.
In fact, it’s nearly impossible not to be immediately swept up by the energy and excitement that places like West Hollywood and Venice Beach exude. It’s a narcotic effect, the allure of flashy wealth, gorgeous bodies, and celebrity status. Even watching it all as a bystander imparts a heady mixture of thrill and envy.
Northern California may be frightfully demure in comparison, but in the long run, its subdued charms and natural beauty prevail. Wealth is certainly in abundance, but rarely displayed. The few hard bodies that exist are usually swathed in loose jeans and shirts. The few celebrities who live here keep very low profiles and are more likely to be on their ranches than in a Rolls Royce. Ostentation in any form is looked down upon (of course, it’s okay to own a BMW, as long as it’s slightly dirty), and unlike in Los Angeles, you can actually explore smog-free San Francisco on foot.
Ironically, it’s the Northern Californians who think of themselves as superior for having prudently eschewed the trappings of vanity and status (in fact, L.A.-bashing is a popular pastime). Southern Californians, on the other hand, couldn’t care less what the Northerners think of them; it’s all sour grapes as they bask poolside 300 sunny days of the year.
In fact, most Southern Californians would be perfectly content to form their own state. The idea has been bandied about the state capital building for years, but it consistently meets its Waterloo when it comes to water rights, always a hotly contested issue in California politics. Northern California holds two-thirds of the state’s watershed, and without the incredibly complex system of aqueducts, reservoirs, and dams that keep huge flows moving southward, Southern California’s 15 million citizens would be in a world of hurt.
But regardless of our polarized views and lifestyles, most Californians do agree on one thing: We’re still the best damn dysfunctional state in America.